Information on arsenic exposure has been all over the news this year and the latest study to be released says that eating rice may lead to potentially harmful exposure to the toxic heavy metal. 

Lots of rice is eaten in the U.S., report researchers from Dartmouth College’s Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center.  The average American consumes about a half cup of rice daily. Asian Americans eat about two cups and Hispanic Americans somewhere in between. But, according to the Dartmouth investigation, much of that rice is tainted with arsenic.

The study, funded by the government and published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, collected urine samples from 229 women six months into their pregnancy. 

The results of that testing, according to an analysis of the research by Consumer Reports, indicated that consuming slightly more than half a cup of cooked rice per day resulted in a total urinary arsenic concentrations pretty much equal to consuming a liter of water containing the maximum amount of arsenic allowable in public drinking water.

The consumer group says “exposure to arsenic in the womb has been linked to problems ranging from low birth weight and infant mortality to hampered immune function and increased death rates from lung cancer later in life.”

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service says the structure of rice plants and the way they grow — submerged in water — leads to absorption of arsenic at a far higher rate than other plants.

The Dartmouth researchers are among many public health experts who say that stringent limits must be established by government regulators for levels of arsenic considered acceptable in food. 

Consumption of arsenic, which is often naturally occurring, has long been a public health problem, but studies are now showing that more and more consumers are being exposed to the poisonous heavy metal.  

This fall alone, the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization warned again that tens of millions of people are being exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic from their municipal water supply or private wells.  

In September, TV physician Dr. Mehmet Oz commissioned an analysis of apple and grape juice and found alarming levels of arsenic. The television star said that some samples had total arsenic levels above the EPA drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion.  

The reaction to Oz’s assertion was instantaneous, loud and brutal, even within the medical community. His findings were first sloughed off as a phony publicity gambit. The FDA discredited it. Dr. Richard Besser, the medical editor for ABC News, called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible” and said it was like “yelling fire in a movie theater.”

However, last week there was widespread crow-eating going on when a Consumer Reports investigation, which included additional laboratory testing, found the findings reported by the daytime TV star were accurate. FDA promised to reexamine the arsenic levels in juice and Oz appeared live on the ABC evening news with Besser on the ABC, who apologized for his criticism.


Andrew Schneider also writes for and This post first appeared Dec. 7, 2011 on